Intolerance in the Left Behind Series
Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report
“Nicolae Carpathia, the man who turned the United Nations into a one-world government with himself as dictator, has just decided on genocide. In his palace in New Babylon, capital of the world, Carpathia–alias the Antichrist–barks instructions to his top aide. ‘I will sanction, condone, support, and reward the death of any Jew anywhere in the world,’ he says. ‘Imprison them. Torture them. Humiliate them. Shame them. Blaspheme their god. Plunder everything they own. Nothing is more important.’ The aide rushes to obey, not knowing that he’s fulfilling one more divine prophecy about the final days of history before the Second Coming.”
This scene is from the latest novel by the Rev. Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins called The Remnant. It goes on to say that many Jews will survive the new Holocaust by becoming born-again Christians. Jews need to make up for the “national sin” of rejecting Jesus. Their choice in the last days is: convert or die. This book levitated to the top of The New York Times bestseller list immediately after publication in July, 2002, with an initial print run reported at 2.75 million copies. LaHaye and Jenkins’ series of thrillers, Left Behind, which included this book, had already sold 33 million copies since they first appeared in 1995. The books sell because they base fiction on fundamentalist theology and they’ve succeeded in spreading that theology far beyond its original audience. Besides expressing contempt for Judaism, they demonize proponents of arms control, ecumenicalism, abortion rights and everyone else disliked by the Christian right; and they justify assassination as a political tool. Their anti-Jewishness is exceeded by their anti-Catholicism. Most basically, they reject the very idea of open, democratic debate. In the world of Left Behind, there exists a single truth, based on a purportedly literal reading of Scripture; anyone who disagrees with that truth is deceived or evil.
This series plus other publications advocating a similar religious intolerance are described in an article by Gersham Gorenberg entitled “Intolerance: The Best Seller” in The American Prospect, September 23, 2002.
LaHaye has served as a prominent comrade-in-arms of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. He was a board member at the time of the Moral Majority’s 1979 founding, and he created the mid-1980s American Coalition for Traditional Values, which got out the vote for the religious right and played a key role in Ronald Reagan’s re-election.
The series is intensely political. It provides a window on how theology can drive right-wing activism–sometimes in bizarre ways, as when vocal supporters of Israel look forward to the conversion or death of the Jews. Propaganda in the guise of fiction, they demand our attention.
The “Rapture of the Church,” popularized by John Darby, a nineteenth British preacher, is a key element of a theology known as dispensational premillennialism, which pervades evangelical Christianity. Between one-fifth and one-fourth of all Americans are evangelicals, researchers report. Millennialism refers to the belief that history as we know it will end, to be followed by the establishment of a divine kingdom. The term is based on the Book of Revelation, which describes the godly era as lasting 1,000 years. It asserts that the world is flawed and must be utterly reconstructed. In its acute form, it says that the existing order must be razed by cataclysm before the new order can be built–and that the cataclysm is near. That radicalism is one reason religious establishments normally oppose millennialism. Another is that every millennial movement has brought bitter disappointment. History refuses to end. Millennialism is a form of public manic depression, so profoundly embarrassing to religion that established faiths try to repress the very memory of outbursts. Yet millennialism was the fevered spirit of 17th century British Puritanism, and has been an essential part of American religion since the Mayflower. “America,” states historian Richard Landes, “was born in an apocalyptic stew.”
Premillennialists insist that the Second Coming will take place so Jesus can rule during that period. Darby added that history should have ended in Jesus’ time–if only the Jews had accepted him as messiah. Because they didn’t, God began a new era, or dispensation; the Church Age, an immense parenthetical clause between the First Coming and the Second. The Church Age could end anytime with the “Rapture,” so believers need to remain perpetually worthy of being transported heavenward. But before the end, God would fulfill his promises to the Jews, to return them to their land and rebuild their temple. Dispensationlism preserved the view of Jews as lost in error, while making them stars of the drama that brings about the end of an evil world. A nonfiction bestseller that popularized dispensationalism, The Late Great Planet Earth, by Hal Lindsey asserted current events were leading to the Antichrist’s one-world government and nuclear weapons were essential to fulfilling prophecies of the end. Lindsey virtually made it an obligation for Christians to welcome nuclear conflagration. Doomsday themes of the Christian right suffused Reagan’s rhetoric.
Although dispensationalism is not the only theology among fundamentalists or evangelicals and may not be the center of their lives, its books reveal something important of what is happening in that subculture. LaHaye’s vision is being read by millions of evangelicals and other Americans. It is fiction that is intended to teach. Inspiration is part of the appeal. Here’s how the global economy (which may have cost me my job or halved my retirement savings) works. Here’s what lies behind debate over abortion or foreign policy. Some people serve God and some serve falsehood. Here’s why a believing Christian can feel left out: Today’s society is controlled by evil. And here’s why cataclysmic war between the forces of good and the axis of evil is inevitable. The Left Behind series rejects the principle of truth arising from democratic debate.
Gorenberg says the proper response to the series’ arguments is “to debate them–to make the ideas woven into the fiction explicit, to analyze and rebut them…The preachers of intolerance should not go unchallenged.”
Some representative quotes from Left Behind author La Haye:
“I’ll tell you what is wrong with America. We don’t have enough of God’s ministers running the country.”
–From an address, Religious Roundtable breakfast, New York Times September 8, 1984.
“Most of all, I believe God has chosen to bless this series. In doing so, he’s giving the country and maybe the world, one last, big wake-up call before the events transpire.”
–From an article in the Southern California Christian Times, quoted from Guy Manchester, “Tim LaHaye: the man behind the bestsellers,” Freedom Writer, Sept.-Oct. 2000
“No humanist is fit to hold office.”
–From Mind Siege (co-authored with David Noebel, author of Communism, Hypnotism and the Beatles).
AHA Questions “PATRIOT II”
(Washington, DC) Attorney General John Ashcroft’s staff drafted new “anti-terrorism” legislation to be the sequel of the USA Patriot Act. Mel Lipman, president of the American Humanist Association, responds, “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 encroaches on the rights and protections of Americans even more than its predecessor did. At its core this legislation is intended to drastically expand the powers of law enforcement and federal intelligence agencies with apparent disregard for the rights it tramples upon.”
Lipman continued, “If the Domestic Security Enhancement Act were to become law we would see our basic freedoms diminished along with key checks and balances on executive branch powers.
As with provisions in the original Patriot Act, this will result in certain individuals being targeted based not on their actions but on their “potential threat,” which can be ethnicity, belief, appearance, or other unrelated factors.
Specifically, this legislation would codify existing administrative efforts to secretly arrest citizens and hold them without charges. Government would be immune from judicial oversight of certain surveillance methods. This would expand capital punishment and prevent courts from questioning certain government actions. Perhaps worst of all, it would have a chilling effect on our freedom of association by enabling government to strip citizenship from people who’ve supported organizations the government deems to have links with terrorism.
During the McCarthy era, Humanist philosopher Corliss Lamont was wrongly accused of being a communist sympathizer and was illegally investigated by the FBI. Fortunately, he was able to use our laws guaranteeing privacy and due process to win judgments and clear his name.
“If this legislation passes, such protections that freed innocent activists in the 1950’s will be history. If we continue down this road of sacrificing liberty for false security we will have nothing left to secure. For when freedom goes, more is soon lost, and tyranny usually overwhelms what remains of civil liberties,” Lipman stated.
Lipman concluded, “The Domestic Security Enhancement Act is the latest in the Bush Administration’s continued efforts to expand executive powers–even at the cost of our rights and liberties. The time to make our voices of dissent heard is now, before government acquires the power to legally stifle us.”
The Bible Unearthed:
Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts
by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman
Why is understanding the origins and purposes of the Bible important? No one book has more strongly influenced Western history, and still does. Modern Zionists justify not only Israel’s existence but its aggression based on so-ca1led Biblical history. Right-wing Christians who believe in a literal Bible strongly influence the Bush administration policies. Sadly, most Americans are ignorant of its nature and contents. This makes them very vulnerable to manipulation and power-grabbing “authorities.”
Starting with genuine Biblical criticism in the 18th century, most of it has been focused on the text itself, and later with what actual history seemed to reveal or not. The Bible Unearthed is a revelation of the vast difference between what the Bible claims and what modern archeology has demonstrated. It is no surprise to find out there were no patriarchs, no exodus, no conquest of Canaan. What might be surprising to many is that Finkelstein, an archeologist at Tel Aviv University, and Silberman, also an archeologist and historian, also draw conclusions from archeological digs all over Israel in the past few decades to conclude that there was not even a united monarchy.
The book is divided into three logical sections: “The Bible as History” (it isn’t), “The Rise and Fall of Ancient Israel” (not so ancient after all) and “Judah and the Making of Biblical History” (most of it was fabricated for political and religious purposes). The last section is, in my opinion, the most interesting one. The two authors think the “book of law,” most probably Deuteronomy, was produced in the 7th century BCE by King Josiah and cohorts to purify the cult of Yahweh and further the aims of a small nation. Monotheism began to take root, and the Bible began to be compiled, pulling on many traditions, being edited and embellished at will.. It is among other things a political document designed to connect Josiah, etc., to a golden era, weaving historical fragments and myths of various Canaanite peoples to justifyexpansionist policies. The Israelites were originally natives of the land, indistinguishable from other Canaanite peoples. Much later they became the “chosen people”–an ambivalent legacy.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who thinks it is important to demythologize the ancient idols to which so many humans remain subject. Without benefit of modern science, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “We discover (in the Bible) a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstition, fanaticism, and fabrication.” He was so right.
I also recommend two classics, Folklore in the Old Testament by J. G. Frazer and Robert Graves and the Hebrew Myths by Graves and R. Patai.
The Bible Unearthed: Archaeology’s New Vision of Ancient Israel and the Origin of its Sacred Texts, by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Silberman; The Free Press, 2001.
Hard Questions for Humanists
- How much do you identify yourself as a humanist? Is it a belief system, a philosophy, or a religion?
- What is and/or should be the relationship among humanist groups such as the AHA and the Council of Secular Humanism?
- What should be the relationship between humanism and atheism? Between humanism and Unitarianism? Between the Humanists of Utah and local religious and philosophical groups?
- What does it mean to be a practicing humanist?
- What do you think of the Humanist “Manifestos?”
- Does humanism have any political objectives? If so, what are they?
- Are there humanist positions on any of the following: a) Euthanasia; b) Therapeutic Cloning; c) Reproductive Cloning; d) Genetic Modification of Humans; e) Late-term Abortion?
- Are there aspects of humanist history that trouble you?
- Do you feel humanism has evolved? What do you think its future direction might be?
- Should humanists seek to grow their numbers?
- What are the greatest challenges that you see humanists facing?
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